Everyone who works at Cisco knows that we encourage, promote and value a diverse workforce. Supporting women is an important part of that effort. The difference in tangible support from ten years ago to today is profound across the company; but I truly believe that the Security & Trust Organization (S&TO) is leading in this area. As Senior Director of S&TO Engineering, I’m proud to be a part of that commitment.
When I started 18 years in Cisco’s IPCBU Engineering team, there were very few women on our team. Today, things have changed considerably. For both 2017 and 2018, S&TO Engineering’s interns were 60% female. In past years, that would have been ten percent or less. The higher percentage of female interns leads to a higher percentage of accepted full-time job offers. While there’s still a ways to go in closing the gender gap, things are improving.
That’s particularly important because we need all of the skilled security talent we can muster. With all of its benefits, the global move to digitization unfortunately also brings related risks and continually changing threats. The shortage of talent to solve it is well known and we need to continue to raise the bar.
Entering the cyber workforce is often an indirect path – for men and for women. The first career step I took was in engineering products that enabled Cisco to win in government markets. National governments are the most security conscious customers in the world, so over time we increasingly focused on advanced security technologies to protect networks and data, as well as to detect attacks when they do occur. Today, my responsibilities include engineering development of Trustworthy Systems and Global Certifications of Cisco products to enable sales into regulated markets. It’s been a fascinating journey with an unforeseeable evolution.
Along the way, I’ve been truly fortunate to have some great female role models, starting within my own family. My grandmother and my mother taught me values of honesty, integrity, reliability, humility and the importance of helping others. All those qualities are just as important inside of Cisco as outside. My mother drove home the importance of education; and education has indeed had a profound impact on my accomplishments. Inside Cisco, I’ve been particularly influenced by two amazing women leaders—Michelle Fleury and Edna Conway—who I’ve known for many years. When I observed both of them presenting at our organization’s Women Empowerment conference, I was amazed and impressed by their strong leadership qualities that I aspire to emulate: world class in their field of expertise, authentic in collaboration, and people that everyone respects. They have both provided me invaluable mentorship. I am a better leader in Cisco because of learning from them.
We need more women leaders like this. So what are we doing to get them? I believe the worldwide engineering gender gap is a function of the talent pool. Engineering, globally, has been largely comprised of males. At top engineering universities, the vast majority of new graduates are male. The number one action that businesses and governments can take to help decrease the cybersecurity talent shortage is to cultivate more cybersecurity talent. That starts with teaching these skills and disciplines earlier in grade schools – by college, it’s almost too late.
For our part, Cisco is working hard to create a more diverse engineering talent pool, attending global women in cybersecurity events and identifying top female engineering talent to recruit. In S&TO Engineering, our two main women empowerment initiatives are to increase the number of women engineers in the organization and to sponsor the career goals of the women engineers already in it. Cisco is a major sponsor of STEM events in local schools, which several members of our team regularly visit to teach programming classes, lead project events and speak about the engineering field’s exciting opportunities. We’ve had some good success, but we need to proactively continue until more females choose engineering as their field of study.
Societally and systemically, there’s a lot to be done to close the cyber gender and talent gaps. We need men’s help: through championing awareness of the issue; through practicing diversity in hiring practices; through sponsoring women in their career goals, which I believe is more impactful than mentoring and coaching; and through helping organizations unlearn past assumptions and biases.
The lack of cybersecurity talent is not due to lack of interest – it’s due to a lack of understanding and exposure. We know how to fix that, so let’s get going!